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Foodie Snippets This Week – mac & cheese, free Yorkshire tea and fame at last!

A new feature that I hope to keep up on my blog, I instagram a lot (too much) and there are lots of little foodie goings on that happen during the week that don’t make it here, so here are snippets from my week!

Saturday started off with meeting up with some lovely local bloggers for #WritingWithTea at Greens Coffee in Cambourne. We did a lot of chatting and catching up but not so much writing in the end, but it was great to meet some new people and also catch up with some old friends. This cinnamon cappuccino was so warming and perfect for a snow day. 

Mac and cheese. Sometimes you need cheese and pasta. Not to bang on about the weather but when is it going to get warmer? I haven’t been warm for quite some time, and I can’t carry on eating so much cheese! This was dinner and then leftovers for lunch, and I added a bit of chilli for even more comfort on a cold day.

Vanilla porridge with some homemade granola (blog coming soon), local honey and a banana. Getting back to eating healthier, and I needed some central heating (anyone else remember those ReadyBrek ads?)

Waitrose now sell Burrata! This is my first time trying Burrata, and whilst it would be great to get it from a proper cheesemonger this Waitrose version was really nice. We had it with fresh bread and really good olive oil. The next day we used up the leftovers to have alongside an aubergine parmigiana.

It’s nearly my birthday! Yorkshire Tea sent me a birthday card and a free sample of Yorkshire Gold – a lovely thing to get in the post, and from a professional point of view – awesome marketing! I’ll be enjoying a cup of this with my birthday breakfast on Tuesday.

And last but not least, I am in a magazine! I was interviewed for Cambridgeshire Journal back in November and their lovely photographer visited me before Christmas to take pictures of me, my beads and my studio. Although I am always mortified to see my face on anything, I’m really pleased about the interview and I think it is a bit great. You can read the interview here and if you’re local you’ll find the journal in lots of spots around town.
Next week it is my birthday and also Eat Cambridge – Cambridge’s first food festival. On my birthday we are visiting the legendary Fortnum and Mason’s for tea and pastries and then on to the more recently legendary Duck & Waffle for dinner, I cannot wait. I’ll also be enjoying a Pie & Mash Night at 12a Club next week (as part of Eat Cambridge) along with the the Eat Cambridge Food Market on the 9th, plus we are also hosting a cake club on the 9th too – big week for food! 

Things to Cook When It is Bloody Freezing

I’m freezing, it is minus something outside, it is snowing and my toes haven’t been warm since I came back from India 2 1/2 weeks ago. These are some pretty good things to make when, like me, you live in an 17th century house that has more gaps in it than a sieve and three blankets and a hot water bottle just aren’t cutting it. Luckily my kitchen is the size of a postage stamp (not always a good thing, but in this case it is ) so it doesn’t take too long to heat up once you start cooking, so it is the best room in the house to spend time in.

Bacon Chipotle Macaroni Cheese
Bacon, chilli, cheese, carbs. All good things.

Roasted Tomato Soup & Cheese Toasties
Of course, soup, and this tomatoey one will hopefully remind you that summer does exist. Plus there are cheese toasts.

Kashmiri Dum Aloo
Good for a spare afternoon, something that simmers on the hob for a while – which both makes for a tasty dish and also heats the house a little bit. If you also spend some time standing over the hob making rotli then you’ll get even warmer.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
It’s like a blanket, with caramel sauce. Custard is a good substitute if you can’t face cold ice cream.

Parsnip & Sage Soup

It’s December so every restaurant menu is awash with parsnip soup with various additions and of varying quality. Inspired by many disappointing parsnip soups I’ve had in Christmasses past, I thought I’d whip up this festive version with a bit more punch than your average Christmas pub menu soup.

I think this soup would be a great way to use up leftover roast parsnips from Christmas Day, to make a nutritious and virtuous Boxing Day lunch. My parsnips were raw chopped ones boiled but I think roasted ones used the same way (but cooked for less time) would be fantastic.

Parsnip & Sage Soup
Serves 4 (2 for dinner and 2 lunch sized portions!)

Olive oil
1/2 white onion
3 large parsnips
Handful of fresh sage
3/4 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
mascarpone and your favourite bread to finish

Heat oil in a large saucepan, roughly chop your onion and fry it in the oil for a few minutes on a medium high heat. Peel and roughly chop the parsnips and add to the pan, fry for a couple of minutes til they start to get a bit of colour. Season well and then chuck in in the sage (stems and leaves are fine) and pour over the stock – you want the stock to go about an inch over the top of the vegetables.

Simmer for 15-20 minutes til the parsnips are very soft. Blend with a stick blender, check for seasoning. If it seems a little thick add some more stock to thin, or a little cream if you are feel fancy.

Serve with a nice dollop of mascarpone and toasted bread. I had some lovely pumpkin seed and cranberry bread from Morrison’s (thank you Miss Sue Flay for the tip!) which is nice and festive as well as being yummy.

Mince Pies : 5 Top Tips

I am currently basking in the glory of having made a near perfect batch of mince pies*, so I thought I’d share with you some tips for making them. I blogged the recipe I use last year and the pastry is yet to fail me, which is saying something if you know about my pastry history before that.

1) Make or buy a jar of really good mincemeat
My Mother-in-Law very kindly gives me a jar or two of her homemade mincemeat once a year, which is excellent. If you can, make your own but if don’t it is worth buying a good quality homemade mincemeat – farm shops, delis and local farmers markets have lots of choice. Supermarket mincemeat tends to be full of too much sugar,  which means the sugar caramelises in the oven and bubbles over the sides of your pies. And it also makes the pies stick to your tin if you are particularly unlucky.

2) Grate your butter, don’t dice. 
This tip works for all pastry and also for crumble, it is so simple but it makes making pastry ten times easier, and keeps the butter cold. Freeze your butter beforehand if you can too as it makes it easier to grate. Another tip I picked up, which was from Mary Berry, is coating the butter in flour makes it easier to grate without getting in a big mess.

3) Thin pastry is better
It makes sense, a big thick lining of pastry is going to take ages to cook and you’ll end up with claggy horrible mince pies. A nice thin layer of pastry, about 3-4mm is best for mince pies – that way your mince pies will stay crisp and will bake in 15 minutes.

4) CHILL
It is really important to chill your pastry after you’ve made it so that it doesn’t shrink up or go all melty in the oven. The pastry recipe I use also doesn’t contain any liquid but if you find it takes a while to come together a bit of ice cold water won’t hurt, but it helps if you chill your pastry down for a bit longer to counteract shrinking/melty pastry. After filling and topping my mince pies I also give them another 15 minutes in the fridge for the same reason.

5) Don’t use too much mincemeat
I’m starting to sound a bit mean now, aren’t I? It’s ok, you can just eat two instead of one. A scant teaspoon of mincemeat is enough, otherwise you’ll have mincemeat bubbling over the edges of your pastry and your mince pies will burn on top and probably stick to the tin.

So there you are, happy mince pie making! I made a double batch of dough and the second half is waiting for me in the freezer so I’ll be making another batch this weekend.

Merry Christmas!

* They lose marks for not being too pretty, but if it tastes good, who cares?

Food photography workshop with Great British Chefs

Last week was social media week in London, due to my exceptional attention to detail (and the fact that I was organising an event during the week for my job) I spotted a really interesting food photography workshop happening as part of it. The workshop, hosted by Great British Chefs at Google’s offices featured dishes cooked by Michelin starred chef from Pascal Aussignac and brilliant photography advice from David Griffen.

After a talk from David we were split into groups based on camera and dishes from Pascal were brought out for us to photograph and of course eat! I’ve posted photos unedited (L) and edited (R) so you can see how they came out and what you can do in post processing to lift your images. Everything was photographed in artificial light, with my Canon Ixus compact camera. I edited the photos in Picasa, mainly just lightening up, highlighting, cropping and a bit of shadow in places.

Glazed butternut squash, balsamic onion and roquefort tart
 Duck carpaccio, sea urchin foam, romanesco cauliflower, lotus root crisp
(this was amazing!)

A dish premiered at the event. Duchess of Marmite – duchess potatoes, marmite sauce, potato crisps.
Quite strong on the marmite taste, even for a lover of marmite like me, but a great idea.

The workshop was really worthwhile for all levels, I found that I was ignoring all the skills I’d learnt about taking pictures of jewellery, they apply to food! Get a cheap £10 reflector (or try foil wrapped around cardboard), get in CLOSE to take your pictures and move the dish around to get the best light on it. I also took a pretty awesome picture of the last dish on my iPhone, you definitely don’t need a big fancy SLR to take great pictures, and mobile phone cameras are obviously better to use in restaurants and cafes.
The workshop is held every year so keep an eye on the social media week site next September, and Great British Chefs is also a great site with loads of fantastic recipes and inspiration – from chefs and bloggers.

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